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Search and Seizure in Drug Cases

Searches and seizures are an important feature of criminal law. They help police find the evidence needed to prosecute and convict people of crimes. And because an arrest or charge has to be backed by evidence, some police officers are willing to do everything they can to get the items or information they need. In some cases, this means acting unlawfully or bending the rules in their pursuit of justice. The police will perform a search or seizure whenever they can to collect evidence, and it’s up to your attorney to determine whether the actions of the police were in accordance with the law. And since there’s no requirement for law enforcement officers to inform individuals of their rights when it comes to search and seizure, an alarming number of such cases involving illegal searches and/or seizures are recorded each year. 

If you’ve been charged with a drug crime in Minnesota, contact the attorney at Ringstrom Law to discuss the legality of the search and/or seizure of your property. Call us at (218) 284-0484 or fill out our online contact form. We have years of experience in illegal search and seizure cases. We’ll thoroughly review your case, and if we determine that the search and seizure were unlawful, we’ll fight hard to have the resulting evidence declared inadmissible in court.

What is a Search and Seizure in Minnesota?

“Search and seizure” addresses two different aspects of criminal cases. Law enforcement officers conduct a search when looking for physical evidence that supports the assertion that you were involved in a crime and may seize or confiscate the evidence they get as a result of the search. In drug cases, the evidence police search for often involved drugs, guns, weapons, cash, or other items that support your involvement in a crime. It may also be particular tools, devices, documentation, or digital files.When police conduct a search, it’s confined to a certain area, such as your person, your home, your vehicle, or an electronic device you own. It could also cover all of your property, including your home, land, detached garage, and storage shed. The area of interest will depend on the circumstances, includingyour alleged crime, their reason for the search, and the pieces of evidence they’re looking for.

The government has the power to seize property if it can demonstrate a link between the property in question and some criminal activity. The police to do not always have the right to just take your things, but through a lawful search, they can take assets that could be relevant to proving you committed a drug-related offense. That said, if an item is confiscated during an illegal search, then the evidence cannot be admissible in court. There are many valid reasons the police may have for conducting a search, but they cannot take action whenever they want.

The Fourth Amendment Prohibits Unreasonable Searches and Seizures

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitutionis designed to protect Americans from illegal searches and seizures by law enforcement agencies. This applies both to actions by state and local police and federal law enforcement. The Fourth Amendment helps protect a person’s privacy to a certain degree. Based on this amendment, the police cannot search or seize you or your property, including your vehicle, home, office, papers, and other personal effects without having probable to believe that the search will result in evidence being found.

In drug cases, the legality of how officers obtain evidence used by prosecutors is a central and often-challenged issue. If law enforcement officials’ conduct violated the Fourth Amendment, the evidence will have to be excluded from your case. And without the necessary evidence to prove involvement in a drug crime, the court may have to dismiss the case against the defendant. If you’ve been charged with a drug crime in Minnesota, contact Ringstrom Law to talk to an attorney who can advise you whether the evidence against you may have resulted from an unconstitutional search or seizure.

Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

To be clear, there are many cases in which the courts have found certain search and seizure actions to be reasonable. The Fourth Amendment only protects you from the unconstitutional search and seizure of property in which you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. You may believe you have an expectation of privacy that’s reasonable, but that doesn’t mean the Fourth Amendment protects that property. The issue of whether you have a legitimate expectation of privacy is one that the society would accept as reasonable. For instance, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your home, hotel room, cell phone, computer, electronic storage devices, or a tent.

For example,Andrew is selling drugs out of his hotel room. The police show up at the hotel and enter his room without a warrant. They find 10kgs of heroin thereand confiscate it to use as evidence to charge him with drug possession for sale.But Andrew’s attorney successfully challenges the introduction of the heroin as evidence. In this case, Andrew has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his hotel room, which means the police did not have the right to search his room without a warrant.

Conversely, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of a stolen vehicle, property that you have abandoned, or property inside a vehicle (if you’re a passenger in a vehicle you do not have any possessory interest). For example, Jeremy sets a tent on a camping site and pays for one night’s stay. He leaves his items there the next day but does not make any communications or payments for the next week. The manager checks his tent and finds a gun and a huge sum of money. He calls the police. The police take Jeremy’s possessions and find documents that connect Jeremy to a drug manufacturing gang.These items are admissible in court as evidencebecause even though the police did not have a search warrant, Jeremy is considered to have abandoned his tent and the personal items.

It’s worth noting that having a reasonable expectation of privacy does mean that law enforcement officials may not search or seize your property. It just means they can only do so with a valid search warrant or if the action falls within one of the various exceptions to the warrant requirement.

Search and Seizure witha Warrant

The standard for when a search or seizure is constitutional in Minnesota is when it’s done with a valid search warrant. Search warrants must be authorized by a neutral judicial state or federal judge. Search warrants give law enforcement officers the right to search and seize items that may be evidence that a crime has been committed or that a particular person has committed a crime. As provided by the Fourth Amendment, a valid search warrant must be based on probable cause and must be issued with the specific location, items, scope, and goal in mind.In essence, a warrant is valid if supported by probable cause, issued by a neutral judicial official, and especially describes the person or items to searched or seized.

Reasonable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion

To establish probable cause, the officers have to present facts that there’s a reasonable belief that a crime is being committed or has been committed. But a person’s right to privacy may vary depending on the property to be searched. For instance, you may have a lesser right to privacy in your vehicle, which allows the police to meet a lower standard for the search. If you’re pulled over, and the facts support that you’ve been involved in a drug crime, the officers may search your vehicle to find evidence of the alleged crime. However, they can only search for evidence related to that particular crime. It’s worth noting that if officers walk up to your car and see or smell something, such as a bag of cocaine or marijuana smoke, they can search or seize items without a warrant. However, a traffic stop doesn’t mean that the officers can search your car. For example, the police cannot search your vehicle because you were pulled over for driving with a brake light out or because you were speeding.

There’s also the issue of reasonable suspicion, which is different from reasonable cause. Reasonable suspicion is usually based on the officer’s training to determine whether or not a crime has been committed or there’s intent to commit a crime. Let’s look at an example:

June and Andréa are sitting together in a parked car when police are patrolling the area. When they see the police car, they speed away, leading to a high-speed chase. When the police catch up with them and conduct a search, they find a bag of cocaine hidden under a seat. The cocaine may be admitted into evidence against June and Andrea even though the police had no search warrant. Their suspicious behavior created probable cause for a search.

Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement

There are numerous circumstances that allow law enforcement officials to perform searches without a warrant. Typically, these are circumstances that make getting a warrant impossible or impractical. These exceptions include:

A law enforcement officer can conduct a warrantless search and seizure if the officer sees something illegal in plain view. Plain view means an officer can see something without entering into the private area or moving the item in question. For instance, if the police see drugs in the backseat through the window of your car, they do not need the warrant to search your vehicle or seize the drugs. However, if they illegally search your vehicle and then find something illegal, the evidence will not be admissible. Basically, the plain view exception asserts that when searching property legally, the police may also search any items that are obviously incriminating and in plain view. 

You’re not obligated to consent to a search of your person, home, office, or vehicle if there’s no search warrant. But if you or another adult gives law enforcement officials permission to conduct the search, you voluntarily waive your Fourth Amendment rights. If the police ask to come into your home or look through your car, you have the right to politely decline. However, you need to be aware that an adult with authority over the target area can consent to a warrantless search. If you live with a roommate or family member who is over 18 years, he or she can let the police in to search the property. And when this happens, none of the evidence collected can be thrown out in court. 

Exigent circumstances are those that would make a reasonable person believe that going to a certain area was necessary to prevent the destruction of evidence, a suspect’s escape, harm, or other actions that would frustrate the police officer’s efforts. These circumstances aren’t as obvious, big, or intense as you may think. Something as small as a police officer knocking on your door and hearing someone flush a toilet or opening the back door could be all an officer need to force him/herself in without a warrant. 

The police are also allowed to seize evidence during emergency situations in which that evidence could be moved, destroyed, or altered. Furthermore, the police may enter private property when chasing a suspect. When a suspect goes onto or in private property, the police do not have to obtain a warrant to follow the suspect. This means they can look for him in private property without a warrant.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine

The “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine refers to evidence that the police uncover as an indirect result of an illegal search or seizure. For example, police suspect that Matilda has been involved in drug trafficking. One afternoon when she’s not home, the police search her apartment without a warrant or her consent. They do not find any incriminating item there, but they find a piece of paper with an address and a key. The officers then obtain a valid warrant to search for the new location. While searching, they find several bags of heroin. Under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, the bags of heroin may not be used as evidence in court. The police have a valid warrant to search the new location, but they only learned of the possible connection after the illegal search of her apartment.

However, prosecutors may get around this rule by arguing that:

  • The evidence was found through an independent channel
  • The evidence is far removed from the unlawful search or seizure
  • There’s a reasonable probability that the evidence would have been found even without the illegal search

Motion to Suppress Evidence

The evidence used in a criminal case must be competent and relevant, meaning it needs to be related to the charges and collected in accordance with the law.If you’re the victim of an illegal search or seizure, you have the right to file a motion to suppress any evidence obtained by the police through that search.A motion to suppress is filed by the defense in a criminal case in an attempt to keep evidence out of court.Procedural rules require that the defense bring the motion before trial. A defendant who fails to take this crucial “pretrial” step risks waiving the opportunity to bring it at all.

It’s not unusual for the prosecution to dismiss the case if the defense wins the motion to suppress. That would likely be the outcome of a case involving illegal drug possession, and the evidence of the drugs has been tossed out. And without evidence of the actual drugs, the prosecutor would probably not be able to prove possession and would drop the charges.Requiring that a motion to suppress be brought before can also avoid interruption of trials. Also, the pretrial requirement provides an opportunity for the prosecution to appeal an order by a judge granting the motion to suppress.

Find a Minnesota Illegal Search and Seizure Attorney Near Me

If the police searched your vehicle, home, office, or personal property in search of evidence connecting you to drug-related crime, and you believe thesearch was illegal, get in touch with Ringstrom Law right away. We’re highly skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney and will carefully look into the possibility of suppressing the evidence against you if it was found during an unconstitutional search or seizure.

As Minnesota criminal defense attorneys, we will seek to find out whether the police had a search warrant or not. If it was used, we’ll look into its validity and whether it was supported by probable cause, including making sure that the document had the proper address, names, and description of the target evidence. If no warrant was issued, we’ll review the circumstance to determine if valid exceptions to the warrant requirement apply to the case.If we find that the evidence was obtainedthrough an illegal search or seizure, we will stop at nothing to ensure your rights are respected, and the evidence is excluded from the case.

Contact us online or call (218) 284-0484 to set up a free consultation with our Minnesota defense attorneys.

Bruce Ringstrom Jr. & Bruce Ringstrom Sr.

Criminal Defense Attorneys in MN & ND

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